Alternate History

Alaskan Indians (Russian America)

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Greany Attu Woman

An Aleut mother and child (1941).

Alaskan Indians (Russian: аляскинские индейцы, alyaskinskiye indeytsy) are the indigenous peoples of Alaska. The first Alaskan Indians migrated from Asia around 18,000 years ago when Asia and North America were connected by a land bridge. Alaskan Indians currently form the largest group in two governoratesAleutia and the Far North. The Alaskan federal government formally recognizes over 50 tribes.

According to the 2007 Census, roughly 5% of the population identified as Alaskan Indians, with most Alaskans of Asian and European descent having some native heritage.


Alaska formally uses the term Alaskan Indian in reference to all indigenous groups. The Russian-use of the name "Indian" was borrowed from the United States, which itself was coined by Christopher Columbus (who mistook the Americas for India). In the Russian language, the name is indeyets (индеец). It should be noted that this name is grammatically distinct from the name used to denote those from Indiaindiyets (индиец).

Prior to Alaska's independence, the Russian Empire colloquially recognized three native groups: Aleuts, Eskimos, and Indians. This distinction was attributed to Russia's early contact with the native people of the Bering Sea (who were clumped together with Siberians). Contact with the native peoples of the Alexander Archipelago (and beyond) would not take place until the late 18th Century. This ethnographic distinction remains in partial use to this day.

Presently there is a movement from Indians and Academics for official records to change terms to simply "original nations" or "aborigines" but this has not occurred. Opposition to a possible new name for Alaskan Indians say this would rob of Alaskan Indians of their identity as the natives of Alaska despite Indian statements to the contrary.


Alaska's Indians are diverse in dozens of language families and Ethnic groups. For purposes of anthropology and historiography they are commonly put into five cultural zones by Alaskan and Russian experts. Examples are placed in parentheses but they by no means denote every single tribe in their respective categories.

Arctic (Inuipat, Aleut, Alutiiq)

Interior Athabaskan (Na'dene)

Maritime Temperate group (Tlingit, Haida, Shimashan)

Somonan Chaparral (Pomo)


Early Contact

Aleut Russian meeting

First encounter between Russians and Aleut Fishermen, 1741

Upon the first contact between Russians and Alaskan Indians in 1741 there would have at least half a million people in the whole territory that is now Alaska. Societies and economies varied greatly between the different native tribes, however they were all remarkable for their reluctance to use agriculture compared to natives in Mexico and the Eastern United States. Fishing was the most common activity in many tribes with landlocked natives relying on hunter gathering. Tribes farther south tended to have more complex rituals and society due to having more resources, throughout the country there was generally as system of coastal natives dominating interior peoples.

Epidemics killed many natives in almost all contacts between Russians and Indians. Relations between Russians and natives varied between violence and cooperation, native Tlingit people almost drove Russians away in 1804.In The first forty years of actual colonization (1780-1820) Russians were reliant upon native peoples, particularly Aleuts as a colonial workforce. Until the Russo-Spanish war many natives in the territory claimed by Russia were unknown to Europeans.


Russian-Alaskan Conversion

St. Tikhon, bidding farewell to Athabaskans

As larger scale Russian settlement of Alaska began after 1810 relations between Indians and colonists varied greatly between different areas of Russian Alaska. Southern Alaskan territories in Oregon and Sonora enjoyed peaceful coexistence and cohabitation but there was war in territories father north.

In early Fort Ross, Elizabeth Kuskova wife, of Russian American company administrator Ivan Kuskova bridged the colony with the Pomo people. Elizabeth taught herself the Pomo language and became the chief translator between the natives and the colonists. Often visiting Pomo villages she learned about the land and what could be grown contributing to the success of Fort Ross as a breadbasket. Elizabeth came to admire the native peoples for their cohabitation with the natural world and encouraged good treatment of the Pomo by her husband's associates. She founded a Russian Orthodox School that exists into the present

The onset of war with Spain sparked tensions between the settlers and Chaparral Indians as incoming soldiers did not respect earlier treaties, often stealing food and supplies for the war effort. After the war the increasingly pressured Pomo had to assimilate into colonial society, many taking on Russian names and customs. Other Pomo however, resisted and fled into the Rocky Mountains. In 1831 on orders of the administrator of the Russian American Company a plot of reserved land for the Pomo was granted to be accompanied by secular advisers and Orthodox priests. While more open to ethnic Europeans today the reserved land continues to hold autonomous status within the governate of Sonora.

The Great Tlingit War

Tlingit Warriors

A bust from the New Archangel museum of History

Despite insistence by several czars for good treatment of native peoples there were several outbreaks of violence in North Alaska. The Tlingit as the traditional center of power in the region were the most resistant to colonization. Even after 1804 eviction of Tlingit from New Archangel colonies in Tongass and Yakut were always on the the defensive from annual attacks from the prosperous Tlingit.

Reluctant to station a permanent garrison of regular soldiers the overextended Russian Empire sent a troupe of Cossacks to subjugate Indian raiders in 1825. What was expected to be a short term conflict resembling the quick suppression of natives in Siberia became a conflict that persisted for thirty years. Against Europeans the Tlingit used night attacks, bronze weapons and rifles bought from British traders. The Tlingit learned how to fight on horseback against the settlers. Short summers and Russian ignorance of the terrain gave the Tlingit the upper hand. Yet, as the war continued the Tlingit were disrupted by other Indians which had been subordinate for thousands of years.

Many Athabaskan peoples saw Russian colonization as a way to escape traditional Tlingit domination Missions from the Russian Orthodox Church produced the first settlements of Alaska's interior, behaving similarity to the Spanish Californian missions of the 1700's .The presence of the missions and Russian priests turned local violence into a religious war against the shamanism of the Tlingit resulting in infamous massacres from both sides. The continuance and cost of of the war led to Russian authorities seizing control of the colonies from the Russian American Company.

Eventually settlers poisoned several rivers to deprive Tlingit of their traditional fishing stocks to force an open field battle for food-supplies. In 1856 the battle of Blood Fields (Russian: Krove Pole) resulted in a stalemate but tactical Russian victory. With the prospect of famine the Tlingit Confederation in Sitka gave a conditional surrender to the Russian American Krai where they converted to Christianity but received immunizations for small pox and tribal autonomy in return.

Under Imperial Authorities


Aleut woman, working for the Russian American Company, 1885

After 1860 the colonists came to impose their way of life on all Indians residing within the territory that is today Alaska. For Indians life varied greatly depending on which tribe they were a part. By comparison some Alaskan natives fared much better than the indigenous people of Siberia but others fared worse.

The colonial authorities enforced a system of casts between tribes. Those such as the Aleuts were semi Russianized and began to cluster in neighborhoods of port such cities such as New Arkhangelsk, leading to the birth of a unique creole languages spoken today. Urban life provided new opportunities for Indians most favored by the colonial government, many found work as carpenters, cooks and shopkeepers. During the reign of Czar Alexander II the first modern Alaskan literature was produced from Indian communities in Ross and New Archangel. Better off Alaskan Indians began to visit the Russian mother country. Alaskan Indians served as an inspiration to the great Russian writers as as Leo Tolstoy who called Indians "renewed virgin people".

In Southern Alaska native Alaskans increasingly choose to either to live in the Somona reserve, to integrate with Ukrainian colonists as Christians or to live alongside Asian Alaskans as Buddhists. The populations of native Alaskans which had already been decimated by colonization only began to recover in the late 19th century. Pomo men would be prohibited from marrying European women until Alaskan Independence.

The 1860's were a turning point for the Indian tribes which had not yet been encountered by any Europeans. Pioneers that ventured to Arctic Coast and the Rocky Mountains were the first to meet Inuits and other remote Indian peoples Pioneers often stayed only temporarily, kidnapping or marrying native women. Pioneers were followed by government teams of surveyors and Cossacks to map out the extent of Russian American lands. Like others they were subject to terrible epidemics. Because the lands were inhospitable to Europeans the Inuit and Yukon Indians retained their way of life through the late 20th century.

Tribes who had violently resisted colonization fared the worst, originally placed on reservations, their lands would shrink as gold rushing pioneers continued to seize their land. Though officially under the czar's protection, Tlingit and other "hostiles" were ruled by Cossacks who regularly abused their power. Alcoholism and undernourishment was the norm through the Alaskan wars. Being otherwise left alone save for Cossack raids or tax collection Tlingit kept their original culture, even while being subjugated A new genre of song bol (Russian:боль) using strong high pitch and low pitch sounds to convey their pain.

The New Alaskan Indians

Tlingit modernized natives

Tlingit Reservation, 1900.

By 1900, Alaskan Indians already diverse by their heritage, were even more divided based on their

tribe and their location. Ranging from living Russianzed middle class lives, to those untouched by modern life. The only common thread being their pre colonial ancestry.

The Russian-Japanese war was the first unified Alaskan experience for Alaskan Indians, conscription agents looked to Alaskan Indians to fulfill their quotas, Alaskan Indians fought in colonial corps with all other groups from Russian America. However biases existed by branch, Aleut were consistently drafted into the navy regardless of their occupation. "Mountain Tribes" such as the Yukon Tlingit were consistently drafted into the army. Returning home Alaskan Indian veterans regardless of tribal origin began to take a larger role in public life, as activists, singers, and technicians. 5 Alaskan Indians took seats the first Alaskan Duma, but held no real power

Prior to WWI, support for the Nasha America independence movement was varied, urban upperclass Indians tended to oppose the movement, fearing that without colonial control they would be subject to violence from the white population. Indians, working in industrial occupations tended to view the movement with apathy. Those living outside of European towns, in reservations or other communities showed interest, if such independence would remove governmental and European influence from their lives. Ironically, Indians who tended to support independence the most as a liberal ideal.

Upon the beginning of WWI, Indian men were again conscripted, on average the casualty ratio for Alaskan Indians were even higher than the rates for Slavic citizens. The pressure of a European war that bore no practical significance to Indians quickly turned the majority of Alaskan Indians against imperial authorities.

Alaskan Wars

The declaration of independent Alaska was met with both caution and enthusiasm by Indians tribes which had traditionally cooperated with authorities were targeted by white populations in race riots. Outside cities tribes split on which faction to support in the ensuing wars. Yukon natives took the opportunity to revolt and establish sovereignty. Thousands of Indians died between 1917 and 1941 in the brutal conflicts, most deaths were a result of famine or localized violence.

In the north Indians were caught in the ongoing war between the Alaskan Socialist Republic and the right wing New Archangel government. Cossacks ruthlessly subjugated rural native populations driving many tribes north towards Yukon. Urban Aleuts despite being friends of the old regime were viewed with distrust and faced segregation or expulsion.



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